The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Ever since the beginning of the war in 2003, Iraqi football has provided an interesting contrast to Iraqi politics. For one thing, Paul Bremer’s aggressive de-Baathification campaign somehow failed to make an impact on the football union, thanks not least to some of its leading figures enjoying support in powerful international sports circles like FIFA. As a result, Hussein Said, a former star player frequently accused of close links to Saddam Hussein’s notorious son Uday, was able to win the position as head of the Iraqi football union in 2004 and stayed on in this position for six years. Secondly, the successful football team itself proved something of an antidote to the prevailing tendency among Iraq’s post-2003 politicians to divvy up positions on the basis of ethno-sectarian affiliation instead of looking to talent and merit. The Iraqi football team that did spectacularly well in 2007 featured players from all kinds of Iraqi social and ethnic background, but the composition of the team never represented any kind of proportional formula.
Today’s election of a new leadership for the Iraqi football union – postponed repeatedly on political grounds since 2009 – serves as an indicator that there are still some differences between politics and sport in Iraq, but also increasingly some similarities.